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1989 Buffalo Bills season


1989 Buffalo Bills season

1989 Buffalo Bills season
Head coach Marv Levy
General manager Bill Polian
Owner Ralph Wilson
Home field Rich Stadium
Record 9–7
Division place 1st AFC East
Playoff finish L AFC Divisional
Previous season      Next season
< 1988      1990 >

The 1989 Buffalo Bills season was the 30th season for the team and the 20th season in the National Football League. The Bills finished in first place in the AFC East and finished the National Football League's 1989 season with a record of 9 wins and 7 losses. Although Buffalo won the division and qualified for the postseason, their record was a drop off from their 12-4 mark in 1988.

Bickering Bills

The team was nicknamed the Bickering Bills because of a rash of internal conflicts within the team. During a Monday Night loss to the Denver Broncos, Jim Kelly could be seen yelling at wide receiver Chris Burkett; it would be Burkett's last game with the team, as he was released shortly after the game.[1]

Kelly was injured in a Week Five blowout loss to the Indianapolis Colts, and subsequently blamed his offensive line's blocking—notably offensive tackle Howard Ballard—for contributing to his injury.[2]

In the week leading up to a Week Eight matchup with Miami, assistant coaches Tom Bresnahan and Nick Nicolau got into a fistfight while the two were reviewing game film.

The biggest blowup occurred when starting running back Thurman Thomas, asking to address Jim Kelly's criticism of the offense—and the pass-catching ability of running back Ronnie Harmon in particular—criticized Kelly himself on a Rochester, NY television show. When asked what position the Bills could upgrade at, Thomas replied, "Quarterback." Thomas claimed at first that it was a joke, but later, when appearing on Paul Maguire's Budweiser Sportsline show, he stated that the team didn't appreciate Kelly's public criticism, and that Kelly should elevate his own level of play.[3][4]


NFL Draft

Main article: 1989 NFL Draft

Lacking a first- or second-round pick in the 1989 draft, the Bills were able to pick wide receiver Don Beebe, a third-round pick from small Chadron State, who would be a productive wide receiver for the team for six seasons. Beebe would achieve something akin to folk hero status in Buffalo, when, in Super Bowl XXVII, as the Bills were being soundly defeated by Dallas, Beebe chased down Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett, stripped the ball from his hands and saved what would have been a sure touchdown.

The Bills also drafted future two-sport athlete Brian Jordan in the 7th round. Though the Bills cut him before the 1989 season began, Jordan would go on to play three productive seasons for the Atlanta Falcons, and fifteen seasons as a Major League Baseball outfielder.

Pick # Player Position College
82 Don Beebe Wide Receiver Chadron State
109 John Kolesar Wide Receiver Michigan
137 Michael Andrews Defensive Back Alcorn State
164 Sean Doctor Tight End Marshall
173 Brian Jordan Defensive Back Richmond
193 Chris Hale Defensive Back USC
Supp Brett Young Defensive Back Oregon
249 Pat Rabold Defensive Tackle Wyoming
276 Carlo Cheattom Defensive Back Auburn
305 Richard Harvey Linebacker Tulane
332 Derrell Marshall Tackle USC



1989 Buffalo Bills staff

Front Office

  • President – Ralph Wilson
  • Vice President of Administration/General Manager – Bill Polian
  • Assistant General Manager/Director of Pro Personnel – Bob Ferguson
  • Director of Player Personnel – John Butler
  • Assistant Director/Collegiate Scouting – A. J. Smith
  • National Scout – Norm Pollom

Head Coaches

  • Vice President for Football Operations/Head Coach – Marv Levy
  • Administrative Assistant to the Head Coach – Chuck Dickerson

Offensive Coaches


Defensive Coaches

  • Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers – Walt Corey
  • Defensive Line – Ted Cottrell
  • Defensive Backs – Dick Roach
  • Defensive Assistant/Linebackers – Chuck Lester

Special Teams Coaches

  • Special Teams – Bruce DeHaven

Strength and Conditioning

  • Strength and Conditioning Coordinator – Rusty Jones


1989 Buffalo Bills roster


Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Linemen


Defensive Backs

Special Teams

Reserve Lists

  • 59
  •  7
  • 36 John Kolesar WR (IR)
  • 21 Carl Mims CB (IR)
  • 40

Developmental Squad

  • 81 Deval Glover WR
  • 92 Matt Jaworski LB
  • 68 Derrell Marshall OL
  • 52 Wes Pritchett LB
  • 25 Tim Smiley S

Rookies in italics

Regular season

Before the season, future Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith was offered a large contract by Denver (US$7.5 million over five years), one that the Bills chose to match to retain Smith.[6] In 1989, Smith became the Bills' all-time sack leader when he reached his 52nd sack; he would end his 19-year career with 200, the most of any NFL player all-time.

Despite the internal strife the Bills experienced, they had some memorable wins. The Bills started the season with a last-second victory at Miami. The Dolphins led 24-13 in the fourth but Buffalo scored on a Flip Johnson touchdown catch, then with two seconds left on the clock, quarterback Jim Kelly dropped back to pass, but ran the ball in to the end zone as time expired, securing a 27–24 win.

In Week Three, the Bills traveled to the Houston Astrodome and faced the "Run and Shoot" Oilers. The Bills raced to a 27-10 lead in the third, but the Oilers exploded and the two teams combined for 45 points to force overtime. In overtime a missed Tony Zendejas kick allowed the Bills to win on Jim Kelly's 28-yard score to Andre Reed. The 47–41 Bills win remains the highest-scoring game between the two franchises. Kelly finished with five touchdown throws.

In Week Six the Bills hosted the undefeated Los Angeles Rams, with backup quarterback Frank Reich subbing for an injured Jim Kelly. The two clubs combined for 26 fourth-quarter points, and with 77 seconds remaining Reich started a drive from the Buffalo 36 yard line and with sixteen seconds left Andre Reed caught the winning eight yard touchdown.

In Week Thirteen, on Monday Night Football, the Bills lost to the Seattle Seahawks 17–16, which included Seahawk Steve Largent running in a botched extra point attempt. Dave Krieg's 51-yard touchdown in the fourth was ultimately the 1-point difference.

The Bills then lost their next two games (to the Saints and 49ers) before securing the AFC East title with a shutout road win over the New York Jets.


Week Date Opponent Result Record Game Site Attendance
1 September 10, 1989 at Miami Dolphins W 27–24 1–0 Joe Robbie Stadium
2 September 18, 1989 Denver Broncos L 14–28 1–1 Rich Stadium
3 September 24, 1989 at Houston Oilers W 47–41 2–1 Houston Astrodome
4 October 1, 1989 New England Patriots W 31–10 3–1 Rich Stadium
5 October 8, 1989 at Indianapolis Colts L 14–37 3–2 Hoosier Dome
6 October 16, 1989 Los Angeles Rams W 23–20 4–2 Rich Stadium
7 October 22, 1989 New York Jets W 34–3 5–2 Rich Stadium
8 October 29, 1989 Miami Dolphins W 31–17 6–2 Rich Stadium
9 November 5, 1989 at Atlanta Falcons L 28–30 6–3 Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium
10 November 12, 1989 Indianapolis Colts W 30–7 7–3 Rich Stadium
11 November 19, 1989 at New England Patriots L 24–33 7–4 Sullivan Stadium
12 November 26, 1989 Cincinnati Bengals W 24–7 8–4 Rich Stadium
13 December 4, 1989 at Seattle Seahawks L 16–17 8–5 Kingdome
14 December 10, 1989 New Orleans Saints L 19–22 8–6 Rich Stadium
15 December 17, 1989 at San Francisco 49ers L 10–21 8–7 Candlestick Park
16 December 23, 1989 at New York Jets W 37–0 9–7 The Meadowlands

Game summaries

Week 1

1 234Total
• Bills 3 01014 27
Dolphins 0 1077 24


Week 2

The Bills lost on Monday Night Football 28-14, giving up a safety when Jamie Mueller was downed in the Bills endzone in the first quarter. It never got better as Jim Kelly was intercepted three times by the Broncos. John Elway and four Broncos backs rushed for 201 yards and won despite ten penalties for 71 yards. Kelly got into a confrontation with receiver Chris Burkett, who was held to one catch for six yards; Burkett was cut and quickly signed by the Jets.

Week 3

The Bills traveled to the Astrodome and the ensuing game against the Oilers became the highest-scoring meeting in the two clubs' history. With Buffalo up 13-10 on the final play of the second quarter a blocked Oilers field goal attempt was run back for a 76-yard Bills touchdown by Mark Kelso. The Bills clawed to a 27-10 lead but the Oilers scored two quick touchdowns in the third, the second a Cris Dishman score on a blocked punt. Warren Moon was drilled as he rifled a touchdown to Ernest Givens and Givens literally jumped over three Bills defenders as he landed in the endzone; a Kelly interception led to a Lorenzo White score, but after a Thurman Thomas touchdown and the overturning of a Bills pick six, Moon drove down for Tony Zendejas's game-tying 52-yard field goal. Zendejas missed another kick in overtime, and Kelly's 28-yard strike to Andre Reed ended the game, a 47-41 overtime Bills win.


AFC East
Buffalo Bills(3) 9 7 0 .563 6–2 8–4 409 317 W1
Indianapolis Colts 8 8 0 .500 4–4 7–5 298 301 L1
Miami Dolphins 8 8 0 .500 4–4 6–8 331 379 L2
New England Patriots 5 11 0 .313 4–4 5–7 297 391 L3
New York Jets 4 12 0 .250 2–6 3–9 253 411 L3


AFC Divisional Playoff

Buffalo Bills (9-7) at Cleveland Browns (9-6-1)

Cleveland Browns 34, Buffalo Bills 30
1 2 34Total
Bills 7 7 7930
Browns 3 14 14334

at Cleveland Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio

In a shootout, Browns linebacker Clay Matthews intercepted Bills quarterback Jim Kelly at the Cleveland 1-yard line with 3 seconds remaining to preserve a 34–30 victory. Kelly threw for 405 yards and 4 touchdowns while Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar threw for 251 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions. Browns receiver Webster Slaughter had the best postseason performance of his career with 3 receptions for 114 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Buffalo scored first with wide receiver Andre Reed's 72-yard touchdown reception. But Cleveland struck back with a 45-yard field goal by Matt Bahr and a 52-yard touchdown pass from Kosar to Slaughter. Kelly's 33-yard touchdown pass to James Lofton put the Bills back in the lead, 14–10, but Browns retook the lead with Ron Middleton's 3-yard catch shortly before the end of the first half.

On the opening drive of the second half, Kosar hooked up with Slaughter for another touchdown pass, this one 44-yards, to increase their lead to 24–14. Buffalo responded with a 6 yard touchdown catch by running back Thurman Thomas, who tied an NFL playoff record with 13 receptions for 150 yards. But Browns running back Eric Metcalf returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown to give his team a 31–21 lead by the end of the third quarter. After an exchange of field goals, Thomas caught a three yard touchdown pass. But the extra point failed, forcing the Bills to attempt to score a touchdown instead of a field goal on their final drive. With time running out, Kelly led the Bills to Cleveland's 11-yard line. But fullback Ronnie Harmon dropped a potential game winning catch in the end zone and Kelly was intercepted by Matthews on the next play.

Awards and records


External links

  • Bills on Pro Football Reference
  • Bills on
  • Bills Stats on

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